Faith-filled actors poised to perform Catholic young adults musical

| October 30, 2019 | 0 Comments

Choreographer Mary Mailand, front, of Assumption in St. Paul, helps cast members learn a dance number during rehearsal Oct. 16 at St. Agnes School in St. Paul. At right is Annie Colling of St. John the Baptist in Jordan. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

What is it like to be a Catholic young adult in 2019?

A bunch of them have banded together to paint a picture. Or rather, sing a song. A troupe comprised of local actors, almost all of them Catholic, will perform “Catholic Young Adults: The Musical” Nov. 15-24 at St. Agnes School’s Helene Houle Auditorium in St. Paul.

Three Catholics with ties to religious life put together the show and cast: Father Kyle Kowalczyk, writer; Brother John-Marmion Villa, composer; and Mary Shaffer, director.

Father Kowalczyk, parochial administrator at St. Maximilian Kolbe in Delano, wrote the play with encouragement from Shaffer, who once belonged to the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in New Ulm and has a background in theater. Brother Villa, Father Kowalczyk’s friend who lives in a religious community in Arkansas, set it to music. The three put together a cast of 25: eight main characters, four supporting roles and an ensemble of 13. Collectively, they are called Missed the Boat Theatre.

The idea for the play came when Shaffer was having a conversation with her younger brother three years ago.

“He was a grad student at Notre Dame at the time,” said Shaffer, 34, a member of St. Michael in Stillwater. “He was telling me about these super nerdy guys who were having night prayer in Latin. He went and sneaked in the back to see if there were any cute girls there. And, there weren’t. So, he snuck out the back. And, I was laughing so hard. I was like, ‘It’s the same everywhere, Catholic young adult life.’ … But, it’s such a unique subculture.”

Right after she hung up, the title of the musical popped into her head, along with the motivation to do it.

“I knew that this musical would be amazing,” she said, “but I knew I didn’t have what it took to write a musical.”

Father Kowalczyk did. He had written plays while at The St. Paul Seminary before his ordination to the priesthood in 2016. She had seen one of them, “Moonshine Abbey.” So, she called him and said, “You have to write this.”

His response?

“I thought it sounded like a terrible idea,” he said. “I didn’t see any humor in it at all.”

She kept trying to convince him. Several emails later, he agreed to take a crack at writing the script. He started in 2016 during his first assignment as a priest at Divine Mercy in Faribault. He finished the first draft in December 2016 and the final version this summer, with auditions taking place in early September.

Rehearsals began right away, and cast members have bonded through their faith, Shaffer included. That has created a chemistry that excites them to perform the musical.

“It’s an absolute blast,” said Tamara Titsworth, 31, of St. Mark in St. Paul, who plays Mary Faustina. “The cast and crew are amazing. And, it’s the first time that I’ve worked in a production where it’s all people of faith.”

Several of the cast members are married with children. One of them has a 4-month-old baby whom she brings to rehearsals. People have been recruited to watch the baby while the mother is on stage.

“We’ve really tried to make this an environment that’s supportive of life and supportive of family life,” Shaffer said.

The musical’s story focuses on a parish in danger of closing, with young adults coming to the rescue. There is lots of humor, cast members said, and they hope members of the audience will see some of themselves in the characters.

“I think it could open up discussions in a really positive way,” said cast member Michael Conroy, 27, of Epiphany in Coon Rapids. “There’s something relatable for those that are Catholic (and) those that aren’t.”

Many cast and crew members have previous acting experience, but felt their faith sometimes was at odds with other cast members and the content of the plays.

“I had a really tough time in the professional theater world with the company that I tried to start acting with,” said Shaffer, who studied theater at St. Olaf College in Northfield. “I really disagreed with some of the moral decisions they were making with the play. I had to drop out.”

Titsworth, likewise, left theater for a time. She had drifted away from the Church, but came back in 2015. Now, she works for St. Mark as the pastoral care director. She likes being part of a “faith-centered cast,” and also the weekly Masses on Mondays before rehearsal at St. Clement in northeast Minneapolis.

She did not hesitate to audition after she found out about the play, while Conroy got a personal invitation from Father Kowalczyk while the priest was assigned at Epiphany. Conroy got to read the script and was part of a group that helped fine tune it. When it came time to audition, he zeroed in on one of the characters, Paulus, who he described as “a bit of an outsider” who “knows probably more about the Church than anybody.”

Father Kowalczyk said he was surprised with the level of talent he was able to assemble for the play. And, he is glad to give cast and crew members a Catholic theater experience.

“That’s our vision: to be able to offer Catholic artists a place to come and make something beautiful for the Lord,” he said. “And, we’re going to do something amazing.”

“When I leave rehearsal, I can’t sleep,” Shaffer said. “I will lie awake in my bed and I think about all the amazing things that happened at rehearsal. And, sometimes I start laughing out loud because I remember how hilarious it was. But, (the play) is also extremely profound, I think, not just for young adults but for any person of any age.”

For more information and to buy tickets, visit



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